“Tregunna” is the twenty first English language crime novel from author Carla Vermaat.
Carla’s inspiration for this novel came about through her own life experiences with her husband Dave following his diagnosis of cancer of the rectum leavening him with a colostomy before sadly dying.
After the diagnosis, we got stuck in what seemed like a roller coaster. Within a few weeks he came home with a colostomy.
Dave never complained about anything. He accepted the new situation and he kept his pride and his dignity. It made me feel humble and proud at the same time.
In one chapter in the book I describe a dream/nightmare “Tregunna” has, when he is in a room full of reporters and everyone in the room gets up and declares that he/she fart’s because they cannot control it. This was based on something that happened when Dave and I went to a quiz night in our local pub. During a break, we were talking to two other people, when it suddenly went quiet and a fart escaped from Dave’s belly. It was quite loud and very embarrassing for Dave too. But he just kept on talking as if he hadn’t noticed anything and I had the presence of mind to look around me, as though I was wondering who had been farting.
It must, subconsciously, have triggered something with the two people we were talking with, because they also looked around…. When we came home, Dave and I had a good laugh about it!
The stoma was never a problem, but the cancer was. Sadly it spread through Dave’s body and he died. By then I had started writing about Tregunna, but his health issues were added after Dave’s death. I guess I needed to write about it to deal with everything we went through together – and of course with losing my best friend and soul mate.
Interview – Carla was interviewed by TJ INK, a publishing services company who produced the book’
The novel is mostly set in Cornwall, travelling (up-north) to Bristol and Tavistock at points. What is it about the county that inspired you to write such a dark story?
I love being close to the sea and in Cornwall you always are. Cornwall inspires me in many ways. For me Cornwall has a certain atmosphere, mysterious if you like. It appeals to me. Somehow I feel connected to this area; perhaps in a previous life I have lived here – who knows? It certainly feels like I have!
Such a dark story? – I’ve had to endure quite a few ‘dark’ periods in my personal life.
Maybe that’s why I am a bit more hardened than other people? True, Tregunna’s problems are very serious indeed, but I don’t see his story as a particularly dark one. In my humble opinion there are always positive sides to the darks in life. They only make us stronger afterwards.
How did writing Tregunna differ from your previous titles?
Tregunna is different because I didn’t write it in my native language (Dutch) Therefore it was more difficult at times, more of a challenge, to find the right words and at the same time keep it flowing. Tregunna is also more personal to me than any of my other books. Not that I have experienced problems like his personally, but I’ve had two good friends who had – they didn’t make it.
You explore some important yet dark issues in the novel. How did you tackle such traumatic themes? Was it difficult to write?
I didn’t tackle the traumatic themes in Tregunna as such. It is rather the other way round: writing the book helped me tackle the traumatic events that happened in my personal life. I suppose you can say that I just had to write about these subjects (bowel cancer and stoma) to deal with it.
My aim was to create a character with an interesting and different side to his life and character. I wanted to make Tregunna vulnerable and human, but also controversial. I wanted him to be a man who is kind, warm and sympathetic, but who is not always able to show his emotions, which is why the other characters in the book, the readers, may not like him. Sadly, bowel cancer is a common aspect in life nowadays, so why hide away from that? I am an open-minded person and I believe you can write about everything. I wanted to lift a bit of the taboo about living with a stoma bag, I wanted to make people understand what it’s like to live with a stoma, the impact it has on your day-to-day life, your pride and dignity.
Inspector Andy Tregunna is a very interesting character, one minute he’s cutting and witty, the next he’s rather selfish and distracted. How much time did you spend and what techniques did you use for the character development of your protagonist?
I don’t spend time on techniques creating and developing the characters. They’re all people I invent in my head and that is where I keep them alive (unless they get killed…). I imagine how each particular character feels, how he/she responds to and react in certain circumstances. While in the process of writing, these characters are my extended family, my friends, my acquaintances.
Tregunna – cutting and witty? I try to use a sarcastic, ironic, sometimes even cynical tone because I’d like to avoid ‘the obvious’.
Selfish? In may seem cynical, but in my opinion everyone is selfish – only one is more (or less) selfish than the other. By writing Tregunna in the first person, it is easier to express his thoughts, feelings and opinions.
Distracted? Wouldn’t we all be distracted when we have to do our job, go on living like normal, yet it isn’t and you have so much else on your mind?
How long did it take you to research, write and produce the book?
The actual writing normally doesn’t take long. A few months, maybe? Research I do along the away. Some authors plot every chapter and know exactly what will happen and when. I don’t do that. I let the story lead me, rather than the other way round.
I start with vague thoughts, which slowly evolve into a basic idea with an ending.
Anything between is a grey area. I play with characters, I invent more (or less) as I go or as I feel or need. Sometimes I plan to have a person killed in the first chapter, however, for some reason; he/she is still alive at the end of the book. The odd word in a conversation from a character can easily start its own life, so to speak, and lead to the appearance (or disappearance) of another one.
Although, especially with crime novels, I know roughly where the story will be in the end, I am not always so sure about the identity of the murderer. I normally have a few characters that fit the bill, but only at the end I decide who it actually is. You need to keep the reader thinking, guessing and I believe that, unconsciously, I will point the reader towards the murderer – If I don’t know myself, I can’t point the reader in the right direction.
Research nowadays is quite easy. When you come across something you don’t know much about, you can easily find it on the internet. If I can’t find the right answers, I either decide to drop the issue, try to be vague about it, or if it essential for the story or plot, I ask someone, a real person, for help and input.
What, in your opinion, are the key aspects to writing a good book?
Write the book you would like to read. Make use of your own skills and talents and knowledge. Use subjects within your limits. Develop your own style. Believe in it!
Do you have any advice for people thinking about writing a book?
Writing is a blessing as well as a curse. You love it and you hate it. You can’t wait to start a new story and at the same time you can’t wait to finish it. You struggling curse and hate it along the way. Once it is finished you feel at a loss and you’ll have to go through a process of mourning like you’ve lost one of your best friends.
But, like with everything in life, if you want something, go for it. Do it, try it. If you don’t try, it will never happen. Or don’t do it and stop thinking about it.
A lot of people say they have experienced so much in life that they can write a whole book about it. I can say it is more difficult than you think to fill a couple of hundred pages.